It’s official: I’m doomed.
The good news first. Scientists are developing a way to build brain tissue, cell by cell, so that they can have near complete control over how a graft is constructed.
The bad news? They’re using ink-jet printer technology to do it. It’s part of a new method of manufacturing, commonly called 3D printing.
Apparently, printers can be modified to spray droplets of live cells suspended in a sustaining solution. The latest technique for doing this involves using a powerful electric field to control the spray, rather than forcing the material through a needle-shaped nozzle.
Overall, this is very cool. Who couldn’t use a few extra brain cells now and then? But why, why, WHY does the technology have to be based on printers?
As long time readers of this column know, printers and I do not get along. I had no problem programming my VCR when we owned one. My cell phone does not confound me. I can install software on my computer and build web sites with one mouse behind my back. (Indeed, sometimes with two mice behind my back — we really need to get a cat for the home office.)
But printers? Grrr.
I can just see it now. I’m getting ready for a big presentation, and decide that a few extra brain cells would help me field the questions I’ll get afterward. I open up the file called BRAIN_BOOST.doc and click Print.
Error: Printer Not Found
But the printer is right there! Check the plugs, check the cables, reboot computer and printer. Open file. Click Print.
Unable To Print: Cyan Ink Low.
But I’m not printing with cyan ink! I’m in brain cell draft mode! Print!
Unable To Print: Cyan Ink Empty.
But you haven’t printed *anything* yet! How can you go from low to empty… fine… search for cyan replacement cartridge, open box, open printer, burn hand on hot component, wrestle old cartridge out, put new cartridge in. Print!
Error: Did You Just Replace An Ink Cartridge? You Must Print A Calibration Page Before You Can Print Again.
But! Okay, whatever, close file, change mode, Print Calibration Page.
Error: Out of Paper.
[Long pause while I have a Yosemite Sam style fit.]
Find paper. Load tray. Print Calibration Page.
Calibration Page Printed.
Hooray! Open file again. Print.
Error: Paper Jam.
Error: There Really Is No Call For That Sort Of Language.
Open printer, gently attempt to pull out jammed paper. Laugh hysterically when it shreds into two thousand smaller pieces. Spend an hour removing all the bits. Close printer. Print.
Wait. Wait some more. Make a pot of tea. Bake cookies. Eat tea and cookies.
PRINT. PRINT. PRINT. PRINT. PRINT. PRINT. PRINT.
Error 8768: Out of Memory.
Call tech support hotline. “Hello, thank you for calling Sister Printers. It is Sunday, February 12, at 3:22 a.m. EST. We are experiencing higher than usual call volume, so your call is being held in priority sequence. Your call is important to us—”
Hang up. Search Sister Printers web site. Find obscure note in knowledge base about error 8768. Find out printer came with drivers that were out of date before this particular model even rolled off the assembly line.
Download and install new drivers. Check all cables. Reboot everything. Check all ink cartridges. Check all paper trays. Print calibration page. Sacrifice a plate of cookies to the Printer Gods. Close eyes. With trembling hands, click Print.
… five pages full of brain cells and one page with just two brain cells at the top.
By this time, the printout barely replaces the cells I have fried just getting the printer to work. I begin having visions of introducing the printer to a baseball bat. Idly surfing the web now, as it just about time for me to leave to make my presentation, I check out the prices of replacement printers.
New! Easy to use! Blunderbuss MP730! Now just $35!*
Hey… I could afford to replace this thing at that price…
* Replacement ink cartridges $325 each, after mail-in rebate.
You see? I’m doomed.